Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has slammed the upcoming A-League season’s scheduling and believes a number of big-name countries will struggle at the World Cup in Qatar in November – despite his team having an ace up its sleeve.
In an exclusive interview with Daily Mail Australia, the 59-year-old expressed his disappointment that the struggling men’s national competition will not resume until October 7, when Melbourne City host last season’s grand final winners Western United at AAMI Park.
Given that John Aloisi’s Western side won the trophy on May 28, it is the world’s longest off-season.
Arnold believes the large gap between campaigns is extremely detrimental – and has been for many years for the Socceroos, Olyroos, and other junior national teams.
‘The gap in between A-League seasons makes it hard for the national teams,’ Arnold said.
‘Why games aren’t played from April to October or November each year I’ll never understand.
‘I would love to be playing regular international friendlies in September ahead of Qatar, but the A-League guys aren’t match fit at the moment, so I can’t possibly pick them.’
The flow-on effect means Arnold will have to pick locally based players in his final World Cup squad on reputation, not form – putting the side at a big disadvantage compared to their opponents.
As a result, starring in the first few rounds of the A-League will mean little for players who are looking to impress Arnold at the 11th hour.
‘I already have a fair idea on who I want, but given it is a World Cup year, the situation isn’t ideal,’ he explained.
‘The FFA [Football Federation Australia] did all they could, bringing the [A-League] season three weeks forward.
‘But at international level, all the little things can make a huge difference.’
With games against World Cup favourites France (November 23), Tunisia (November 26), and Denmark (1 December), Australia’s recovery time will be limited.
Many people expect the Socceroos to be cannon fodder after making it into the tournament, but Arnold is quietly optimistic.
‘We have played five games in Qatar previously – and won all five matches,’ he pointed out.
‘The boys know what to expect in terms of the conditions and local culture…and that could prove to be pivotal.
‘You have to train in the heat, and then with the stadiums air-conditioned, it takes time to adjust.
‘Peru arrived late before they played us, and it was definitely a factor in my eyes in terms of their performance in our World Cup qualifier.
‘Don’t be surprised to see some of the bigger nations struggle, the heat can be hard to deal with.’
All three of the Socceroos’ matches in Group D will be played out of the Al-Wakrah Stadium.